This could be Klobuchar’s moment. But it appears, at least right now, to be someone else’s.
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has also been casting himself as the pragmatic alternative to the more progressive front-runners. And it seems to be working for him: The most recent poll from ABC/The Washington Post showed Klobuchar with 2 percent support nationwide, compared with roughly 9 percent for Buttigieg. While the voters I spoke with at Monday’s event were happy to hear from Klobuchar and extol her experience as a purple-state senator, almost no one was fully committed to supporting her in the primary. But everyone—everyone—was singing Buttigieg’s praises.
“She’s practical, no-nonsense. She is what Washington needs,” Laura Spechc, a 54-year-old database manager from the neighborhood, told me. But Spechc likes Buttigieg too, she said, and given his youth and skills as an orator, “I think he’s more winnable.”
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Although many voters told me they think Buttigieg is more electable, Klobuchar has proved, time and again, that she can win. The Democrat is serving her third term in the Senate and has consistently outperformed other Democrats all across Minnesota, a state Donald Trump nearly won in 2016. It’s the premise of her entire campaign: Americans need someone who can appeal to voters in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that swung toward Trump in 2016, and she’s one of the few Democrats with a proven ability to win red areas. In 2018, when Klobuchar was up for reelection to the Senate, she did 14 points better in the state than Hillary Clinton in 2016.
A new poll released this week from The New York Times and Siena College underscores how vulnerable Democrats still are in the upper Midwest and in other key battleground states. In Michigan, the poll has Trump leading Warren, running even with Biden, and narrowly trailing Sanders. “I think that the voters are looking for someone who can win,” Klobuchar told me in an interview after Monday’s event, when I asked her about the poll. “We still have people that need to get to know me. My experience has been the more they get to know me, the better I do, the more votes I bring in.”
A majority of voters from swing states who were polled in the Times survey said they would prefer a more moderate Democratic nominee to a more liberal one. The voters I met last night felt similarly.
“Even though I love Elizabeth Warren, I love Bernie … the question is electability in the rest of the country,” said Jan Ostroff, a 66-year-old retiree living in Philadelphia. “She has a lot of bills that have gone through, so she’s worked the aisles.” Ostroff said Klobuchar gives her hope that government might start actually accomplishing things.
“I like someone [who’s] not afraid to say, ‘That’s not practical, wiping out old student loans,’” said Spechc, referencing Sanders’s and Warren’s proposals to eliminate most or all student debt. “It’s not about policy. It’s about the fact that [Klobuchar’s] not creating a false hope, because that only serves to disappoint.”